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The Coronavirus outbreak is part of the climate change crisis

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The Coronavirus outbreak is part of the climate change crisis

Therefore, climate action should be central to our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The speed and scope of the coronavirus outbreak have taken world governments by surprise and left the stock market reeling. Since the virus first appeared in China’s Hubei province, it has infected over 700,000 people and killed more than 33,000 across the world in less than six months.

The interconnectedness of our globalised world facilitated the spread of COVID-19. The disruption this continues to cause has made evident societal dependence on global production systems.

The pandemic has forced governments into a difficult balancing act between ensuring public safety and wellbeing and maintaining profit margins and growth targets. Ultimately, the prospect of a large death toll and the collapse of health systems have forced countries to put millions of people on lockdown.

These sweeping and unprecedented measures taken by the government and international institutions could not but make some of us wonder about another global emergency that needs urgent action – climate change. 

The two emergencies are in fact quite similar. Both have their roots in the world’s current economic model – that of the pursuit of infinite growth at the expense of the environment on which our survival depends – and both are deadly and disruptive.

In fact, one may argue that the pandemic is part of climate change and therefore, our response to it should not be limited to containing the spread of the virus. What we thought was “normal” before the pandemic was already a crisis and so returning to it cannot be an option.

 

The common roots of COVID-19 and climate change

Despite the persistent climate denialism in some policy circles, by now it is clear to the majority across the world that climate change is happening as a result of human activity – namely industrial production.

In order to continue producing – and being able to declare that their economy is growing – humans are harvesting the natural resources of the planet – water, fossil fuels, timber, land, ore, etc – and plugging them into an industrial cycle which puts out various consumables (cars, clothes, furniture, phones, processed food etc) and a lot of waste.

This process depletes the natural ability of the environment to balance itself and disrupts ecological cycles (for example deforestation leads to lower CO2 absorption by forests), while at the same time, it adds a large amount of waste (for example CO2 from burned fossil fuels). This, in turn, is leading to changes in the climate of our planet.

This same process is also responsible for COVID-19 and other outbreaks. The need for more natural resources has forced humans to encroach on various natural habitats and expose themselves to yet unknown pathogens.

At the same time, the growth of mass production of food has created large-scale farms, where massive numbers of livestock and poultry packed into megabarns. As socialist biologist Rob Wallace argues in his book Big Farms Make Big Flu, this has created the perfect environment for the mutation and emergence of new diseases such as hepatitis E, Nipah virus, Q fever, and others.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three out of four new infectious diseases come from human-animal contact. The outbreaks of Ebola and other coronaviruses such as MERS, for instance, were triggered by a jump from animal to human in disturbed natural habitats.

In the case of COVID-19, it is suspected that the virus was transmitted to humans at a “wet market” in the city of Wuhan, where wildlife was being sold.

The mass-scale breeding of wild animals, including pangolins, civet cats, foxes, wild geese, and boar among many others is a $74bn industry in China and has been viewed as a get-rich-quick scheme by its rural population.

The origin of the virus makes it a perfect example of how the way capitalism commodifies life to turn it into profit can directly endanger human life. In this sense, the ongoing pandemic is the product of unrestrained capitalist production and consumption patterns and is very much part of the deleterious environmental changes it is causing.

The failure to contain it is also due to the capitalist drive of the global economy. In the United States, some have claimed that profit losses from the freezing of economic activity are not worth closing the country for business for more than 15 days.

The World Bank Group has also recently stated that structural adjustment reforms will need to be implemented to recover from COVID-19, including requirements for loans being tied to doing away with “excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection…to foster markets, choice, and faster growth prospects.”

Doubling down on neoliberal policies which encourage the unrestrained abuse of resources would be a catastrophic prospect in a post-COVID-19 world. The suspension of environmental laws and regulations in the US is already a frightening sign of what returning to “normal” means for the establishment. 

Climate change is happening

 Although both COVID-19 and climate change are rooted in the same abusive economic behaviour and both have proven to be deadly for humans, governments have seen them as separate and unconnected phenomena and have therefore responded rather differently to them.

The vast majority of countries around the world – albeit with varying degrees of delay – have taken strict measures to curb the movement and gathering of people in order to contain the virus, even at the expense of economic growth.

The same has not happened with climate change. Current climate change measures have taken little heed of the scale and progression of the environmental changes we are experiencing. Climate change does not follow four-year election cycles or five-year economic plans. It does not wait for 2030 or 2050 Sustainable Development targets.

Various aspects of climate change progress at different speeds and in different locations and although for some of us these changes might not be obvious or palpable, they are happening. There are also certain thresholds which if crossed will cause change to be irreversible – whether in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, the loss of insect populations or the melting of the permafrost

And while we do not get daily updates on the death toll caused by climate change, as we do with COVID-19, it is much deadlier than the virus.

Global warming of 3C and 4C above pre-industrial levels could easily lead to a series of catastrophic outcomes. It could severely affect our ability to produce food by decreasing the fertility of soils, intensifying droughts, causing coastal inundations, increasing the loss of pollinators, etc. It could also cause severe heatwaves across the world, which have already proven increasingly deadly both in terms of high temperatures and the wildfires they cause, as well as more extreme weather phenomena like hurricanes.

Pursuing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, carbon offsetting schemes, incremental eco-efficiencies, vegan diets for the wealthy and other similar tactics will not stop climate change because they do not discourage mass industrial production and consumption but simply shift their emphasis. Such approaches will never work because they do not entail the necessary radical change of our high-powered lives that is required to force us to slow down and reduce our emissions.

The rapid response to COVID-19 around the world illustrates the remarkable capacity of society to put the emergency brake on “business-as-usual” simply by acting in the moment. It shows that we can take radical action if we want to.

Lockdowns across the world have already resulted in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. In China, for instance, the lockdown caused carbon dioxide to drop by at least 25 percent and nitrogen dioxide by 37 percent. 

Taking action

Yet, this temporary decrease in greenhouse gases should not be a cause for celebration. The fact is that as a result of the lockdowns, millions of people have already lost their jobs and billions will probably struggle amid the economic downturn the outbreak is causing.

While some have called for climate change to be just as drastic as the one undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it should not be. We need a just climate transition which ensures the protection of the poor and most vulnerable and which is integrated into our pandemic response. This would not only reverse the climate disaster we are already living in but also minimise the risk of new pandemics like the current one breaking out. 

The just climate transition should involve economic reforms to introduce “planned degrowth” that puts the wellbeing of people over profit margins. The first step towards that is ensuring the stimulus packages that governments are announcing across the world are not wasted on bailing out corporations.

We must avoid at all costs a situation where unscrupulous big businesses and state actors are allowed free reign to reinforce appalling global inequality while the rest of civil society is quarantined at home. 

We should demand that government funds are instead allocated to decentralised renewable energy production in order to start implementing the Green New Deal and create new meaningful jobs amid the post-COVID-19 economic crisis. In parallel, we should ensure the provision of universal healthcare and free education, the extension of social protection for all vulnerable populations and the prioritisation of affordable housing.

The current response to COVID-19 could help usher in some of these changes. It could get us accustomed to lifestyles and work patterns that minimise consumption. It could encourage us to commute and travel less, reduce household waste, have shorter work weeks, and rely more on local supply chains – i.e. actions that do not hurt the livelihoods of the working classes but shift economic activity from a globalised to a more localised pattern.

Obviously, the conditions surrounding COVID-19 are not ideal, but the rapid and urgent actions in response to the virus and the inspiring examples of mutual aid also illustrate that society is more than capable of acting collectively in the face of grave danger to the whole of humanity.

 

 

Original source: https://www.aljazeera.com

 

Professor writes critical ‘Open Letter’ to teen climate activist Greta Thunberg

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Professor writes critical ‘Open Letter’ to teen climate activist Greta Thunberg

An Open Letter to Greta Thunberg:

You are not a moral leader. But I will tell you what you are.

Greta Thunberg:

You have declared yourself a leader and said that your generation will start a revolution.

You have comported yourself as a credentialed adult and climate change activist who has fearlessly addressed politicians and world leaders.

You have dropped out of school and declared that there isn’t any reason to attend or any reason for you to study since there will be no future for you to inherit.

You have, rather than attend your classes, been leading Friday Climate Strikes for all students in your generation across the globe.

Your attendance at oil pipelines has been striking. There, you unequivocally declare that all oil needs to remain in the ground where it belongs.

I shall, therefore, against the backdrop of your activism, address you as an adult rather than as a child.

In September of 2019, you crossed the Atlantic in a “zero-carbon” racing yacht that had no toilet and electric light on board. You made an impassioned plea at the United Nations in which you claimed that “we have stolen your dreams and our childhood with our empty words.”

You claimed that adults and world leaders come to young people for answers and explained in anger: “How dare you!”

You claimed that we are failing you and that young people are beginning to understand our betrayal. You further declared that if we continue to fail your generation: “We will never forgive you.”

You have stated that you want us to panic, and to act as if our homes are on fire. You insist that rich countries must reduce to zero emissions immediately.

In your speeches, you attack economic growth and have stated that our current climate crisis is caused by “buying and building things.”

You call for climate justice and equity, without addressing the worst polluter on the planet – China; the country that is economically annexing much of Africa and Latin America.

You dare not lecture Iran about its uranium projects — because that’s not part of the UN’s agenda, is it?

You proclaim that we need to live within the planetary boundaries, to focus on equity and “take a few steps back” for the sake of all living species.

You resent the hierarchical distinctions between humans and animals and entertain no qualitative distinction between a monkey, a malaria-infested mosquito and a snarling hyena.

You mouth slogans such as: “We have set in motion an irreversible chain reaction beyond control,” and you advocate for universal veganism on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

You do not buy new clothes, and you don’t want the rest of us to either. You want us all to stop flying in jet planes without giving us an alternative as to how we would re-transform our financial and trading systems—to say nothing of our personal enjoyment of the world—without regression to a primaeval era.

Few can afford to cross the Atlantic in a $6M zero-carbon yacht financed by rich people who made their wealth by the very means you condemn as loathsome.

There are a few things that we, the rational adults of the world who are not bowing to you like guilt-ridden obsequious Babbitts need to say to you, Greta.

First, we did not rob you of your childhood or of your dreams.

You are the legatee of a magnificent technological civilization, which my generation and the one before it and several others preceding it all the way to the Industrial Revolution and the Renaissance, bequeathed to you.

That growth-driven, capitalist technological civilization has created the conditions for you to harangue us over our betrayal. It is a civilization that eradicated diseases such as smallpox from the word, and that lifted millions out of abject poverty in a universe you think is dying and decaying. It assured you a life expectancy that exceeded that of your ancestors. Most likely by focusing on economic growth which you demonize, and scientific advancement, that civilization will further enhance a robust quality of life and health for your descendants.

Here is a hard truth to ponder, Greta: if the great producers of this world whom you excoriate were to withdraw their productivity, wealth and talents—in short—their minds from the world today, your generation would simply perish.

Why?

Because as children you have done nothing as yet, with your lives besides being born. This is what we expect of children until such time as they can be producers by learning from their elders. You are understandably social and ecological ballast. You are not yet cognitively advanced to replicate the structures of survival of which you are the beneficiaries.

Children are important instalments in the future. We have invested in you. It is you and your smug generation, which thinks they have nothing to learn from the older ones who are failing themselves. Whom do you expect to employ the majority of you if you have neither the job credentials or life competency skills to navigate the world? The future unemployable-skipping- school-on-Friday obstreperous children?

The truth, as one anonymous blogger aptly put it, is that your generation is unable to work up to forty hours per week without being chronically depressed and anxious.

Its members cannot even decide if they want to be a boy or a girl, or both, or neither, or a “they.”

They cannot eat meat without crying.

I might add that your generation needs “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” as pre-conditions for learning in school.

Its members have a pathological need to be coddled and protected from the challenging realities of life.

Your generation is the biggest demander and consumer of carbon-spewing technological gadgets and devices. An hour without any of them and too many of you succumb to paralyzing lethargy.

Your generation is the least curious and most insular set of individuals one has ever encountered. Your hubris extends so far that you think you have nothing to learn from your elders.

Yes, we have betrayed you: by capitulating the world of leadership to bored, attention-deficit children who spout bromides, platitudes and slogans that a rudderless and morally relativistic culture accepts because a significant number of its denizens have become intellectually bankrupt and morally lazy.

The logical endpoint of your ecological vision would see us living in primaeval conditions eking out an existence in jungle swamps in which we would regard poisonous snakes and man-eating tigers as our moral equals.

We would have to adapt ourselves to nature rather than adapt nature to meet our needs, like all members of civilized civilizations do.

Your vision would see us foraging for mushrooms and plants without knowing which were inimical to our digestive systems. Under your system we would swelter from heat, die from rampant plagues and starvation because there will be no air-conditioning units, no sophisticated plumbing and irrigations and sewer systems, no anti-bacterial soap made from animal matter, no pesticides and chemicals to sanitize our food and drinking supplies: just one primordial swamp of human putrefaction.

If civilization is left in the hands of your ecofascist supporters we will be living in grass huts, drinking animal faeces infested water, and shrinking in fear from polar bears instead of killing them for food when they attack us.

Greta, living in complete harmony with nature is the death of creativity. Understand this. All great civilizations were forged in the crucibles of proper exploitation of the earth. Those who lived on the land with oil and did nothing with it never had a right to it in the first place.

Non-usage of God’s resources is the cardinal sin because it results in the un-development of our human capabilities, and makes us indistinguishable from beasts.

Your generation needs to be taught the morality of wealth creation, rather than only parasitically benefiting from it. The only revolution you will lead is one into nihilism and civilization regression.

You need to learn about the moral case for fossil fuel. You owe it to yourself to understand how as, Kathleen Hartnett White has detailed, the harnessing of the vast store of concentrated energy in fossil fuels allowed mankind, for the first time in human history, to escape intractable constraints and energy limits that had left all but the very privileged in total poverty and depravity. Before the Industrial Revolution, all societies were dependent on a very limited flow of solar energy captured in living plants for subsistence needs such as food, fuel and shelter.

But we, the creative enterprisers, will not go back to the Dark Ages.

Your philosophy can be summed up as follows:

What was good for my anthropoid ancestors is good for me. Do not rock the boat, or even build one as that will require cutting down a tree. Do not disrupt nature. Do not dare to see the earth as rightfully belonging to us. We don’t have the right to use our brains in a manner that can transform our needs into a material form. Let’s conveniently forget that production is the application of reason to the problems of survival. Let’s all diminish the grandeur of man and his luminous potential. Crush the Thomas Edisons of this world.

The apocalyptic world vision you hold has been a strip landing for those who have hated progress throughout history. Your apocalyptic predictions have been made for millennia, and, we’re still here.

We will still be here long after you’ve grown up and we have forgiven you for skipping classes, thereby lowering the intelligence quotient of an entire generation.

Jason D. Hill

Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics. He is the author of several books, including “We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People” (Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press). Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.